Just around the time I was considering leaving my day job to work from home full time (circa fall 2007), someone gave me a flier for a local ‘internet marketing’ workshop, hosted by Stores Online. I figured, hey, it’s free, and knowledge & another perspective can’t hurt, right?
Well, naive as I was at the time (there’s been a lot of water under that bridge in 3 years!) I didn’t step outside the process to observe (as I should have), but allowed myself to get sucked in, hook, line, and sinker. Needless to say, I now enjoy watching these sort of things unfold from a detached (and somewhat cynical) marketing standpoint; watching presentation techniques and closing devices and the whole bit. Back then? Not so much.
So we go to this Stores Online presentation, they give you a free something or other (I think it was a day planner or something stupid) and do their best to wow you with the potential profit that exists in selling things online. Well, I already knew that. Thing is, I’d ready the 4 Hour Work Week just a couple months earlier, and Timothy Ferriss had several amazing examples of guys that had made a lot of dough with their web stores. With that in mind, I was an easy target. I had already sort of decided at the time that I wanted to start my own web store, and they were presenting an opportunity to do just that… or so I thought.
Anyways, at the end of the evening, Stores Online said we’ll give you a one day workshop for free – you just have to pay for your lunch – and we’ll teach you about all this fancy internet marketing stuff. Ok, sounds like a plan. Thank you so much for the opportunity Stores Online!
(side note – you can request a ‘free invitation’ to a Stores Online workshop near you at their homepage. Nothing quite like inviting yourself to a party, is there?)
Stores Online Pro: Slick Marketing Masters
Thing is, I already knew 97% of what they were talking about from an internet marketing standpoint, but I wanted the tools they were offering to get going quick. So I go to this day long presentation – because that’s what it was, not a ‘seminar’ – and I ‘learned’ all about their product. Not so much about internet marketing…
Anyhow, before lunch they’d steeped you full of success stories, we’d heard from live speakers ‘living the dream’ – and they’d put the offer on the table (unspoken: so you have time to phone whoever you need to at lunch). After lunch they stepped it up a bit, finally closing near the end of the day with a strong scarcity offer.
IE – if you don’t act TODAY, you’re totally screwed.
Well gee, thanks Stores Online – I guess I’d better drop the wad on your offer then!
Kind as they are, those Stores Online Pro folk, they offered I believe it was a 7 day money back guarantee. I spent several thousand dollars with them to get I think it was 5 web store licenses. That allowed me to use their store builder software on 5 sites. If memory serves, it was roughly a grand a piece.
So I jumped on board, planning on getting this up and running as soon as I’d quit my day job, which was scheduled for a month or so away. Of course that put me way beyond any guarantee period they offered, and think about it for a moment – unless you went home immediately the day after and jumped into this thing full tilt for seven days straight, you’d actually have no idea what you’d truly gotten into by the time the guarantee period expired. The learning curve is STEEP!
In other words – unless you got buyer’s remorse the very next day, and were smart enough to act on it, you’re screwed. Personally, I had no idea what I’d really gotten into until months down the road…
Stores Online Review In A Nutshell
Ok, so let’s get down and dirty here. What is it that makes Stores Online such a ripoff? Here’s what I can remember off the top of my head:
- The upfront cost of $1000 per license is a total ripoff. All over the internet you can find software packages that will allow you to accomplish the same thing as Stores Online Pro at a fraction of the cost – often between the $150 to $300 price point. And in many cases, that fee will give you unlimited licenses.
- Their software “Stores Online Pro” platform is archaic, antiquated, and asinine. It does not (at least at the time when I was immersed in it) have the ability to integrate with 3rd party industry standard applications. Things like RSS feeds, a dynamic blog, email auto responders and more were simply not on the table, despite the Stores Online claims of being cutting edge. PHP? Forget it. Critics will say that Stores Online provides an auto responder – but I say it is absurdly simplistic and incapable of handling even the most basic of standard auto responder functions.
- Their software conveniently integrates with drop shippers like Doba who also have shady reputations, and also lock you in to monthly fees, just so you can list products on your site. It is a bit of an old boys’ club in my opinion. Estimated fee to have a drop shipper account? Something like $30-$50 a month. On top of that, you’re getting pricing similar to what you might find on Amazon (how you gonna mark that up enough to cover costs and get rich?) Oh – and they never tell you about how much work it is to find a true on-demand drop shipper on your own. Virtually impossible for the market I chose (digital picture frames). Despite the amazing ‘training resources’ Stores Online provided, I only ever came across suppliers willing to send out big batches of product. Definitely not what I was looking for. (True drop shipping means you get an order for product XYZ, and your supplier ships the required quantity directly to the end-user on your behalf. No inventory required.)
- Speaking of fees, don’t forget the $30 hosting fee Stores Online charges you to have your store online! Yeah – in a world where $6 or $7 per month gets you unlimited domains with unlimited databases and email accounts the $30 Stores Online fee is a blatant rip off.
- Their store software is not at all intuitive. Web design with Stores Online flies against all known standards you’d find elsewhere, and instead you’re left stumbling around in their menu system. Want a custom theme? No problem – but you’re going to have to pay $100 per hour for a programmer’s time. They never told you the stock themes sucked, did they?
- It claims to be database driven, but you still end up managing things manually. I found keeping track of items a real chore.
The Stores Online Slimy Sequels
The other thing that you’ll never hear about is once you drink the Stores Online Kool Aid, they will give or sell your contact information to a whole slew of other blood-smelling sharks. After a while I began getting rather intense sales calls from all sorts of business growth type companies with a coaching program for this, that and the other thing. Apparently Stores Online is in bed with other coaching outfits that will give you ‘advanced training’ that isn’t available through Stores Online themselves – training that is specific to the Stores Online platform, and if you honestly want the fast path to success, well by golly, you better be on board! (I’m talking about PMI here). I also heard from legal eagles trying to help me setup the legal side of my business, I heard from business growth guys who wanted to help me build a business plan, I heard from SEO gooroos who wanted to help me rank better than Google itself.
Imagine that – so many pleasant conversations with nice sales people, and all I had to do was give Stores Online my credit card number.
Stumbling Through The Stores Online Nightmare
When I finally did quit my day job, I did indeed dive deep into the Stores Online system. I picked a niche (digital picture frames). I researched drop shipping suppliers (ended up being pretty forced to use Doba and Operation Dropship – both have monthly fees). I got setup with a credit card merchant account (another $40 a month). So far I hadn’t sold a single thing, and I was into it for at least $150 a month, just to have a website.
I spent literally hundreds of hours on this store. Once the thing was built, I poured countless hours into writing articles, link building, even making review videos – all in an effort to build the site and generate traffic. I tried this, that, and all sorts of other things. I went through their coaching, and walked away with nothing to show.
After a while other projects began to take up more of my time, and I began to let it slide. Sure, it had generated a few thousand in revenue, but the profits were nowhere near break even considering I needed $150 to stay open. Roughly 18 months later, I sat down one sunny afternoon and had a long, hard look at my Stores Online fiasco.
I decided then and there to pull the plug.
There is definitely such a thing as throwing away good money after bad, and I’d had enough. I consciously decided to scrap hundreds of hours of hard work, cut my losses, and turn the site into an Amazon affiliate site, based on WordPress. WordPress would finally, at last, give me the freedom I needed to actually do things I’d wanted to do for so long with the site. Amazon gave me a totally free, hands-off source of products at the best prices. Sure, I was only getting a 4% cut, but it was for zero effort, and zero ongoing cost.
I bought a WordPress plugin that allowed me to import Amazon products into WordPress, and within 2 days I had a fully functioning Amazon store. Then I pretty much walked away from it. That first month, I made a clean $50 profit from that site, and it continued to generate $30-$50 a month after that. Unbelievable. Finally I was free of the Stores Online boat anchor, and I was actually seeing some positive cash flow for once!
Store Online Preys On Innocent People
You’ve probably never seen an ad on the internet for Stores Online. Ironic, seeing as they apparently are the grand masters of selling stuff online. However, you might have seen their direct mail on your kitchen counter. They are masters at offline lead acquisition, pulling you first to an evening info-session, then further into an all day sales pitch. The model is tested and proven in all sorts of industries, and the Stores Online marketing department is at the top of their game.
They get you in a time-sensitive crunch, where you don’t really have time to research who they are and what they do. Everything is structured so that you get pulled into the little world of Stores Online; they keep you isolated from truly reputable sources of information that would open your eyes to see what a sham they’re running. This goes for the pre-sale part as well as the post-sale.
The travesty of all of this is that they do an excellent job of sucking in very well-intentioned people, taking many of their precious dollars, just to sell them a dream. I’m not saying Stores Online can’t be made to work – I’m sure their success stories are true, but those are a tiny percentage. I know, because I joined a forum full of people like me (screwed Stores Online customers trying to make the best out of a bad thing) at the time.
The Stores Online Alternative
My Stores Online saga was a rather unhappy experiment early on in my business, and thankfully I’ve since moved way beyond that point. Looking back, it serves to keep me humble, knowing I’ve been taken in with the best of them.
That said, I’d love it if my experience can serve as a warning to other people, and hopefully prevent others the same level of frustration I encountered in dealing with Stores Online.
So if not Stores Online, then what?
Well, if you’re just getting your feet wet in internet marketing, then the best thing I can recommend is to join our member’s list – it’s free, just enter your name and email below – and we’ll show you step by step case studies of live websites that are actually making money. We’ve learned the hard way so you don’t have to. We’ll show you how to do it for a fraction of the time and money it would take with Stores Online, and more importantly, you’ll be getting sound marketing advice that has been proven over and over online. Not by someone we read about, but by us. Enter your name and email below to get started. Unlike Stores Online, we will not sell or rent your contact information to others!
Further to that, don’t sell physical products. The markup is slim and you have to deal with suppliers who can disappear or cut you off at any time. Selling information products is FAR more profitable, in many cases you’re close to 90% profit on a sale. Some retailers have made good money on the internet, but the majority that make it big are either selling information or services, and usually both.
That said, if you’re really interested in the Stores Online concept, and want to build your own web store, then I recommend thoroughly researching your options beforehand. There are some amazing options available now based on the WordPress platform; you can also go with Yahoo stores or one of the other solutions. But please heed this simple advice: